Collaboration software -- an increasingly overpopulated space -- just became a little more crowded with last month’s launch of Paper, Dropbox’s live document editor. It’s not quite another Slack, but instead a response to the rise of team chat platforms that have swept through developer communities and are now taking hold with all kinds of startups. In fact, Dropbox is just one of many betting big on this space. Frame.io, a collaboration startup for producing video, just raised a seed round. Enterprise stalwart Microsoft made waves by putting collaboration tools front and center in its new Microsoft Office suite last month. As team chat apps heat up the collaboration space, it’s worth asking: How did we get here? And what does this mean for how we’ll work in the future?
Collaboration tools grow more popular every day -- but they didn’t fall from the sky during the most recent tech boom. Apps like Slack trace their origin to the rise of unified communications and collaboration (UCC) products that sought to improve workplace efficiency by extending the reach of telecom technology. What’s we’re seeing now isn’t the end of UCC, but an expansion of it.
As the way we work has evolved because of the Internet -- so too has unified communications. Telephony, once at the core of how businesses communicate, has been augmented by lightweight chat software that cuts down on unnecessary email and enables teams to communicate as if they were all in the same room. This speaks to the alarming speeds companies work at to be competitive. In a world where being first to market can make or break a business, efficient communication can make a tremendous difference. Ultimately, what we’re seeing now is an innovative new iteration on a continually relevant concept: a centralized hub for workplace communications.
The crucial user interface pivot happened around 2010, according to Gartner. That’s when IM/contact list features came to UCC platforms that already included Voice Over IP (VoIP) and video chatting. 2015 solidified the “meeting room” format many of us already find familiar: a sidebar with relevant teams and contacts, searchable chat history, and any multimedia or third-party functions. Team chat doesn’t just want to be where you chat about projects, but the place where you edit files, schedule meetings, and distribute tasks.
The future of collaboration software is feature-rich. Startups are finally realizing what companies want in addition to team chat: the video chat, document-editing, and telephony capabilities they’re accustomed to. They’re not just looking for an internal tool, but an all-in-one hub for employee and customer communication alike. Players big and small are now working on software that empowers teams to choose the best communication methods for them. Sometimes it could be team chat, and other times it could be video chat or a phone call.
The way we work will always be evolving. As technology continues advancing at breakneck speed, it’s easy to see team chat as a one-off solution to a vexing problem. But this ignores team chat’s roots in unified communications, at the center of the modern communication suite. The rise of collaboration software speaks not only volumes about the value of team chat, but also reveals what companies are really looking for: options.
Kira Makagon, RingCentral’s Executive Vice President of Innovation, leads global product strategy, product management, engineering, operations, and IT. Over her extensive tech sector career, she has built multiple breakthrough industry solutions and companies, garnering a reputation as a leader in both software development and business management.